Easy Tips for a Zero Waste Picnic and BBQ

It's better for the Earth and your wallet

Picnic supplies

The Spruce / Margot Cavin

If you've ever felt a pang of guilt when packing up bags of waste after hosting a backyard barbecue or any outdoor dining extravaganza, we can help. Throwing a more sustainable soiree isn't just better for the planet; it can be more affordable too. Think of it this way: Purchasing reusable utensils means you're buying the goods once instead of every time, and sometimes making your own condiments actually comes out cheaper (not to mention more delicious) than store-bought.

With these tips and tricks, anyone can throw a fabulous outdoor bash with less waste and hardly any additional effort.

  • 01 of 14

    Ditch the Plastic Cutlery

    Gold and Matte White Flatware Set

    The Black Home

    Not only are plastic knives, forks, and spoons typically flimsier than the ones you use in your kitchen, they're also not great for the planet. Grab a set of flatware that's just for outdoor use. For an even more sustainable solution, pick up some mismatched sets from a local thrift store.

  • 02 of 14

    Use a Real Tablecloth

    beautiful outdoor table
    Westend61/Getty Images

    Give your outdoor gathering a little extra class by putting down a real tablecloth instead of a disposable plastic "cloth." If you don't want to bring your nice linens outdoors, or you don't use them indoors, try a bedsheet or a thin blanket. When in doubt, the thrift store is your friend.

  • 03 of 14

    Set the Table with Real Plates

    outdoor dinnerware

    World Market

    A mismatched set of garage sale plates doesn't just cut down on paper waste, they look whimsical as well. Even better, you can easily load up a plastic or ceramic plate with far more 'cue than the thin paper kind. If you aren't into thrifting, pick up a few sets of outdoor dinnerware that's made for al fresco dining.

  • 04 of 14

    Keep Produce Fresh with Reusable Containers

    lettuce in an idesign and the spruce home organization line container, available at lowe's

    The Spruce / Margot Cavin

    Fresh berries or greens make a sweet addition to any cookout, but they always seem to go bad as soon as they leave the vine—especially if you shop organic. Store your veggies and fruit in a crisp produce bin for easy fridge storage that works double time as a travel case straight to your picnic. These sleek and functional containers will help your farmers' market haul go the distance.

    Continue to 5 of 14 below.
  • 05 of 14

    Grill Up Some Veggies

    Grill paneer

    The Spruce

    Let's face it: Meat is bad for the Earth. Agricultural meat production is the second biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions, and the most significant source of methane, in particular. Think about serving more vegetarian mains for your cookout and portioning meat as a side dish instead.

  • 06 of 14

    Skip Bottled Beverages

    Ouzo Lemonade

    The Spruce Eats/Ulyana Verbytska

    Plastic bottles have a much higher carbon footprint than pouring it straight from the tap, and even if you put your cans and bottles into the recycling bin, less than 10 percent of the plastic produced every year actually gets recycled. Instead, make a big pitcher of agua fresca, toss some citrus and mint into tap water, or juice your own garden fruits and vegetables for a refreshing drink that's better for the planet.

  • 07 of 14

    Choose Cans Over Plastic

    Easy Chelada With Mexican Beer

    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck

    We get it: Sometimes you just need to crack open a cold one. If you're looking to serve beer or soda, cans are a more sustainable choice. While not quite zero waste, aluminum cans are less toxic than plastic if they don't end up recycled.

  • 08 of 14

    Pack Handheld Foods

    air fryer hot dogs in buns

     The Spruce Eats / Leah Maroney

    Cut down on flatware altogether by serving up a finger food feast. While you will still need napkins, you won't need serving utensils, forks, knives, or spoons if you stick to handheld foods. Think hot dogs and burgers, shish kebabs, hand pies, and of course, popsicles.

    Continue to 9 of 14 below.
  • 09 of 14

    Make Your Own Condiments

    Ketchup in jar

    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck

    Move over, Heinz. Making your own condiments not only cuts down on plastic consumption, but often taste better and can help use up leftover produce from your crisper. Think homemade relish, ketchup, mustard, and of course, guacamole and salsa for dipping.

  • 10 of 14

    Make Bread From Scratch

    Peanut Butter Bread

    The Spruce / Abbey Littlejohn

    Making your own sandwich bread, hot dog rolls, hamburger buns, and even pitas cuts down on packaging and adds an extra level of homemade flare to your feast. Plus, you can make them gluten-free if anyone in your party has dietary restrictions.

  • 11 of 14

    Shop Local

    Basket of fresh produce

    PeopleImages / Gett Images

    Cut down on your carbon footprint by shopping at a nearby farmer's market, produce stand, food co-op, or using food from your own garden. Often, the farmers will sell their own wares, so you can chat about where it comes from and even get recipe tips right from the people who know their product best.

  • 12 of 14

    Grill Greener with Natural Gas

    Gas grill

     Nicholas Free / Getty Images

    Switch out propane for natural gas for a more environmentally friendly grilling experience. If you do use charcoal, avoid self-lighting charcoal and petroleum-based lighting fluid and instead choose natural charcoal or lump charcoal that often uses recycled furniture scraps and waste wood.

    Continue to 13 of 14 below.
  • 13 of 14

    Preheat Your Grill Only as Long As Needed

    Barbecue grill fire


    Marius Jennert / EyeEm / Getty Images

    Contrary to popular belief, most gas grills need just 5-10 minutes to preheat, while most charcoal takes just 15-20 minutes. Prep your ingredients ahead of time so your grill only burns as long as absolutely necessary, whether you choose gas or charcoal.

  • 14 of 14

    Clean While It's Hot

    grill brush

    Nobody likes cleaning the grill, but taking your grill brush to it while still hot means stuck-on food will come off more easily and you'll send less smoke into the atmosphere next time. Always remember to clean out drip pans too, as those can cause flare-ups too.

Article Sources
The Spruce Eats uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Meat footprint calculator. (n.d.).

  2. The truth about recycling. (n.d.). 5Gyres.Org.